4 actors, 2 sets of parents, one great movie.
It’s often suggested that people should use their words, and that violence is not the answer. “Mass” is a movie that represents that notion, as it talks about the violence that lead these two sets of parents in the same room at the same church. And once the conversation begins, the film presents it in a powerful sense that makes it one of the year’s best films.
To clarify, Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton as Jay and Gail sit with Reed Birney and Ann Dowd as Richard and Linda to talk about their dead sons. Richard and Linda’s son murdered their son in a school shooting, and the opposite parents are concerned about how their son went in that dark direction.
I know, I know. This is the part where you comment on Facebook (where I share my work) that I’m spoiling the movie, but the trailer already beat me to the punch. But what it doesn’t reveal is how or why it went down. The tension smoothly keeps the audience involved. The two sets of parents take about their other kids, politics, and so forth, until it all converses to the main topic of the meeting.
Richard and Linda’s son had some mental problems, ones that keep him in isolation, which destroyed his character. He couldn’t survive in school or his therapists sessions. The parents did all they could to help them, but even Jay and Gail both acknowledge that.
For Jay and Gail, the movie opens with them considering about apologizing to the couple for what they said, but they can’t apologize for expressing their emotions.
“Mass” is the directorial debut of Fran Kranz, whose acting credits include “The Cabin in the Woods” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” both written by Joss Whedon. When actors break free from their comfort zone to take on the director’s chair (like Jordan Peele or Greta Gerwig), it usually is exhilarating, and in Kranz’s case, he excels like never before. He draws the characters with a certain amount of depth and empathy, and he also gives the parents of the shooter their guilts, and the parents of the victim their humanity.
The conversations seem like something out of a Broadway play, and I was reminded a bit of Roman Polanski’s take on “Carnage” and maybe the non-play “My Dinner With Andre.” The movie opens with the nervous church worker Judy (Breeda Wool) and the mediator Kendra (Michelle N. Carter) making sure the room gets set up with out the music from the choir practice interfering with the meeting, and how the former tells her more chilled co-worker Anthony (Kagen Albright) to mind his own business about the latter’s work. And it closes with how the two sets of parents prepare to leave. You have to know when to open and close a movie conversation, and Kranz delivers.
Isaacs, Plimpton, Birney, and Dowd are all uniformly excellent in the ways they express their characters’ emotions, regrets, and perspectives about what destroyed their lives. I was expecting it to be angrier than the trailer promote it, and there are some angry moments, but it’s actually more sentimental and balanced. It doesn’t jump to obvious conclusions and takes us into their turmoil, which reality unfortunately has to provide sometimes.
“Mass” knows how to deal with these four characters with a wise and powerful aspect. The more you watch this artisan film, the more absorbed and moved you feel towards the end. This is a major breakthrough for Kranz.